On our first full day in Kisumu, the topic on everyone’s minds was tourism. Starting the day off with a trip to the Kisumu Museum, we had a personal tour of the gallery by our tour guide and by the founder and former curator. The Museum also includes a traditional Luo homestead, with explanations in front of each home and granary, indicating which house would belong to whom and all of the uses. What could have been a really powerful learning experience was made a little confusing by the presentation of “traditional dancing,” which had the dancers scantily clad in fake animal skins and even one afro wig. As we were pulled in to the dances with photos being taken – later by actual journalists for an article about tourism – we couldn’t help thinking about how we much would have preferred to learn about the cultural significance and meaning of each of the dances. When we were pulled back to the presentation for a second round, this time with journalists present (mostly taking photos of us) and a few speeches given by the organizers, it led to a later conversation on staged experiences and authenticity.
The feeling of authenticity was definitely more concrete when we visited Kit Mikayi, a rock formation and religious and cultural heritage site for the community. We learned about the history, spoke with some of the elders, and even had some dialogue about cultural exchange and meaning. After a tour around Kit Mikayi, we climbed into the caves and up around the rock formation, even seeing a woman praying fervently at one of the altars commonly found in the caves. The rock is called Kit Mikayi (“Stone of the First Wife” in Dholuo), as the folk tale goes, because an old man called Ngeso would walk to the rock and stay all day, causing his wife to refer to the rock as his first wife because he spent all his time there. The rest of the day was spent discussing how Kit Mikayi could become a more well-known tourist site, and how to structure an experience that was interactive, meaningful, and genuine. It was an interesting day with a concise theme, and many of us left with many questions about how tourism can best improve the lives of the local community.
The next day, Wednesday, we set off for Dunga Beach. As we pulled in on our big bus, we saw a place bustling with activity and music: fishermen spreading out their nets, hauling the long, colorful wooden boats onshore and unloading the day’s catch to the women who crowd around. These women fish traders moved back and forth on land, cleaning fish, laughing amongst themselves, or waiting in the shade for certain boats to return with lungfish, Nile Perch, or catfish. We filed out onto the dock amongst a few curious stares, donned our neon orange life vests, and clambered into the boat awaiting us, complete with “Selfie Sticks Available” sign.
The boat tour was fantastic. Out on Lake Victoria for a few hours with the sun and cool breeze, we learned about the lake’s fishing industry and the issues with pollution from local industry, sewage, and fish farms. While on the water, we saw the contrasts of the lake: fishing boats using both legal and illegal methods, crystal clear water followed by streams of polluting green algae, and shoreline business – some restaurants for locals, some enormous tourist resorts. After a few sunbaked and information-saturated hours, we pulled onto a small beach and walked through the town back to the beach, noting the few boda-boda drivers chugging along the road and the quiet of laundry hanging out to dry and all the children off at school.
When we reach Dunga Beach again, we visit the fishing co-operative, a resource for fishermen to access coolers and more technical fishing gear for bigger catches. The co-op is meant to be a collective bargaining tool to cut out the middle-men who often cut a significant amount of the fishermen’s profits. After a tour of the beach and lunch at the local restaurant, we met our translators for our interviews with the fishermen and fish traders. In groups of two, equipped with our questionnaires and gifts of sugar, tea, and Safaricom cards, we spent the next few hours learning about the routines, challenges, and lives of the women and men we spoke to. It was interesting to learn about what they considered the biggest issues: pollution in the lake, night fishermen stealing equipment, and the women having numerous dependents (often as the sole provider for the household). After doing readings on the issue of “fish for sex” and how it exploits women and eases the spread of HIV, we were surprised to hear that it is much less common nowadays – at least at Dunga. Later that night, after returning to the hotel, we met up with Henry and students from the nearby Maseno University (Christopher, Joel, Ida, and Amy), who led us on a walking tour of Kisumu.
On Thursday, Henry’s father Adera Osawa, a member of the Luo Council of Elders, came to speak to the group as a guest lecturer. In his lecture, he spoke on the history, diaspora, and leadership of the Luo community. We learned about the Luo Council of Elders’ past history as the Luo Union East Africa, and how political situations can shape the way a community organizes itself. According to Adera Osawa, the Luo Council of Elders is a way to “bring us together and make us think.” He spoke further about how the Luo Council of Elders structures itself, and its role in clarifying and preserving cultural practices. His talk was especially helpful later, when each presentation group interviewed three groups of community members: the men from the Council of Elders, the “mamas,” or the middle-aged women also involved in the Council of Elders, and the four young students – Chris, Joel, Ida, and Amy. Each group asked questions relevant to their presentation topics: the political situation, the traditions and cultural practices, and fishing industry of the Luo community.
On Friday we packed up and left Kisumu, setting off for Nakuru National Park and our resort-like hotel within the grounds! This was our first “safari hotel,” but we were about to spend the next week in an even more luxurious one in Amboseli. During our one-night trip, we did four game drives: one on the way in, one later that day, and two the next morning (early before breakfast, and then on our way out). The game drives were so interesting because not only did we get to see wildlife, but we learned about the issues the park is facing, like the rising lake levels, the rising salinity in a freshwater lake (the second-biggest freshwater lake), and the overpopulation of grazers within a fenced park, like buffalo and zebra. It was such a fantastic way to end the week, and we got this cute group photo at the “Baboon Cliffs” to wrap up just before setting off back to Nairobi. Our Kisumu trip had been amazing and eye-opening. Up next was Amboseli, and we couldn’t wait!